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Author Interview Series 2020: Craig Stewart

Craig Stewart
Craig Stewart’s Author Photo

I’m excited to introduce another Canadian author, Craig Stewart! With a background as a filmmaker and author, he takes a very visual approach to the horror genre and won the New Apple Literary Award of Excellence for Horror in 2018 for his book “Worship Me”. The following interview questions focus on this book – one that I will be reviewing soon. I hope you enjoy these answers as much as I have. These answers are direct quotes. If you would like more information on his books, you can view all of those available for purchase through amazon here. Additionally, you can visit their author website at www.everythingcraigstewart.com.

What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence Worship Me?

Whiskers on kittens, but that has very little to do with Worship Me. I guess, if I’m being honest, Worship Me has less to do with my favorite things than it does my least favorite things. Like most horror stories, it’s meant to purge the demons from our psyche, and the demons in Worship Me have to do with faith vs. flesh; it started with me questioning: how can someone reconcile spiritual belief with the bloody, bodily reality of being alive? And so, the setting became a small country church, like the one I was taken to as a child, and the invading force became a powerful, ancient entity that could reduce people to their bowels and bones. Through the trials of the characters, I tried to make this book an exploration of what living and dying really is; something I had been struggling with at the time, having been going through my own grieving process after the death of my sister. Really, this book wouldn’t have been written if I didn’t have that sorrow within me. It needed out, so I let it out. Otherwise, maybe it really would have been about whiskers and kittens.

Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

I love inside jokes. There’s not as many as I’d like there to be in Worship Me, due to its tone, however, the layout of the church in the book is based off the real St. Paul’s United Church that I attended as a child. And, I always try to find a way to fit in the name of my high school drama teacher, who was the first person to really take a chance on me, creatively.

What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

Trying not to hate the world for not letting you just sit down and write. I often find myself in the middle of making dinner, angry at my food, because I just had a brilliant idea (or so I think at the time), and this food, sizzling away, mocking me with its little pops and fizzes, is keeping me from doing what I need to do. So, having an understanding that I need to eat, I guess that’s what I’m saying is the hardest.

How long did it take you to write Worship Me from the first idea to publication date?

Wow, great question. In total I’d say about seven years from its original conception. Originally, I wrote it as a screenplay and adapted the book from that.

What advice do you have to new authors?

Most likely, everyone is going to say “No.” In order to survive those rejections, make sure what you write is something you really believe in. Don’t write for someone else. Just write honestly, and then hope someone cares. Maybe someone will!

Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

Fellow writers. There’s a caricature out there of ‘the writer’ as a jealous, lonely narcissist – that, of course, exists – but, for the most part, all of the writers I have met have been brilliant, beautiful and generous people. They know the struggles and are more than willing to reach down and help to pull you back up. They might even dust you off, if you’re lucky.

Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

Probably yourself. Though, maybe that’s not terribly unexpected. It’s hard to be heard in these loud times, and a lot of writers think, “Well, if I haven’t sold a million copies yet, then it’s my own failing, I’m just no good, like I always feared…Guess I’ll go back to canning tomatoes.” Only to realize that robots can tomatoes now (unless they’re genetically modified tomatoes – those ones can themselves). Anyway, chances are, your work is just getting lost in the cacophony of the modern age. The real truth is that people aren’t reading as much as they used to for a plethora of reasons. So, you may never sell a million copies. Don’t let that be your motivation. Again, write the book you’d want to read, then your biggest enemy won’t have anything to say.

What was your biggest inspiration?

Well, Worship Me, as mentioned earlier, was born out of grief, and my long journey losing my faith. Really, all the horror in the book was inspired by that painful process, which should help to explain why the book is so filled with pain. In terms of influences, I’ve always been a hardcore Clive Barker enthusiast. He’s the real reason I fell in love with writing, and with monsters. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead filled my head with nightmares as a childand sometimes as an adult. I always loved the claustrophobic storytelling with all those characters stuck together in a little house. That, certainly, influenced Worship Me. King’s The Mist, for sure.

If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write Worship Me, what would it say?

Hi Craig, this is Craig. You invent time travel in the future. Also, don’t be afraid to show your heart – they’re much easier to rip out that way. And that’s what this story’s about.

Why do you write?

Like most authors, I write out of necessity. On the selfish side, the act of writing just makes my mind feel better – it helps sort out the chaos. On the slightly less selfish side, I can remember being a young gay kid growing up in a small town and feeling awkward and out of place… then, I found the horror section of the local video store, and it was filled with angsty stories of other outcasts that tore through heteronormativity with chainsaws and butcher knives. I felt scared, because it was unearthing feelings that I didn’t even know I had. I felt understood; I felt at home. I’d like to try to create works that could be a home for other outcasts.

Author Interview Series 2020: Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

I first met Alyssa in 2011 while living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the time I could not fathom the fantasy world living within her brain that I would read from the pages of MORNNOVIN 9 years later and it was not a primary topic of our conversation. Over first first few of those 9 years Alyssa’s life turned upside-down and inside-out as I watched an acquaintance go through what must have been one of the most difficult periods of her life. Like a phoenix, Alyssa rose up. In my opinion, she is living proof that the dream of publishing a book can come true even in the most difficult of circumstances with the support of a community and, most of all, if you believe in yourself.

You can visit Alyssa Bethancourt’s website here to keep up to date on her current projects and you can purchase your copy of MORNNOVIN here.

  1. What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence your book?

“Elves, swords, trees, dogs, music, wordplay, water, and the freedom to be odd. I feel like, for the most part, my interest in these things is almost immediately evident to anyone who reads my writing. MORNNOVIN doesn’t have as many dogs in it as I would like, though. I could also say that indirectly, through the writing process, the book was shaped on a molecular level by my exposure (or lack of) to these things as the work progressed. And many scenes only came together because of the music I was listening to as I brought them to life.”

  1. Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

“Eh, not really? There is exactly one inside joke in MORNNOVIN, but the only person who understood it has since made a dramatically terrible exit from my life. Perhaps a sign that I’d better write to please myself alone from now on. At the risk of sounding maudlin, writing is a solitary endeavor and I’ve always done it in spite of the people around me, (especially family,) not with or for them. I do have some support now in the form of a writing critique group and a wonderful spouse who is my biggest fan, but that’s a very recent development.” 

  1. What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

“To quote writer Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing. I love having written.” 

This probably sounds boring, but the hardest part of the writing process is literally just figuring out and writing down what happens. I mean, broad strokes are fine, but then you have to sit in front of the blank page and answer the question of how to show that taking place, scene after scene, for an entire novel. Elf princess saves the world from certain doom, but like, how? Where? What does she do? What are the scenes you have to write? She has to get from here to there, but how much of that do you talk about? Do you talk about the actual steps? (No, obviously not.) How much do you describe? How much do you cut away from because it’s unnecessary? Just thinking about this is giving me Book Three stress. lol”

  1. How long did it take you to write this book from the first idea to publication date?

“There are two answers to this question.

The short answer is that I scribbled down the first exploratory scenes sometime mid-2008, and I wrote the very last scene of the final chapter on December 16th, 2014. So 6-and-a half-ish years to write, then I took some time off before editing, edited for a year, queried for a while, and finally published last year in 2019. Eleven years. Damn.

The longer answer is that I started writing the very first stories about Loríen when I was ten years old, back in 1989. It didn’t take long for those stories to become a novel; I think I finished the very first version of proto-MORNNOVIN (it had a different name back then, but the broad strokes were the same) within a year or so. It was awful, naturally. On top of that, I lost my only copy. I’d rewritten it completely by the time I was sixteen. That version, too, was embarrassing, but by that point I was deeply committed to these characters and their struggles. I rewrote it again in my early twenties. That draft sat in a chest in my house for more than a decade until I gave it one final chance to be the sweeping epic I knew it could be, when I started working on the now-published rewrite in 2008. So… from first inception in 1989 to publication in 2019? That’s thirty years. I don’t know if that’s a wow or a yikes.”

  1. What advice do you have to other new authors?

“Oh, I think other people have already said just about everything that’s worth listening to on the subject of writing. I doubt I have anything to add other than listen to those guys, then do your own thing. But above all, you can’t be a writer if you don’t write, so write. On the subject of publishing? Like, being an author? Shit, I still don’t know anything there. The only advice I can really offer is to find your own path and try not to let the fear paralyze you.”

  1. Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

“All of the authors of all of the stories you’ve ever read in your life – and I include fanfiction authors in this. You can attend all the creative writing courses in the world, but until you’ve really absorbed a broad spectrum of what other storytellers have tried out in the wild, you can’t internalize the reality of what works and what doesn’t. And you should always be reading more, always trying to learn something new either about writing, or about people and the world, or about who you are as a writer/reader. Authors who say they never read are not to be trusted and certainly not to be taken seriously. There’s no reason to pretend you’re inventing the craft when every storyteller from the beginning of time is out there ready to be your guide through the darkness.”

  1. Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

“That’s easy: 1. yourself, and 2. everyone else.”

  1. What was your biggest inspiration?

“Without question, J.R.R. Tolkien. I wanted to write my own fantasy stories from the very first time my mom read THE HOBBIT aloud to me, when I was a toddler.”

  1. If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write this book, what would it say?

“Hm. I may be a fantasy author, but I’m also a sci-fi reader. I know better than to try to affect the timeline. The most I could safely say to Past Me would be something generic like, “Believe in your words and don’t give up,” because it’s been a hell of a rocky road getting here.”

  1. Why do you write? (Optional)

“Because I have to. Sharks have to keep swimming, and writers have to keep writing. 

Honestly? I just can’t imagine not writing. There have been several points in my life where I’ve melodramatically declared that I’m never writing again, and it never sticks. I could just as easily declare that I’m not going to eat anymore, or breathe, or have red blood cells. I don’t get to decide any of that. I’m a writer, and that’s just how it is. I write because I need to.”

Author Interview Series 2020: Linda Rainier

I had the pleasure of meeting with Linda Rainier in December 2019 while visiting the Boston area. As my first time interviewing an author I was nervous. I have set questions for all authors to be interviewed for 2020 and I decided to experiment with one in person interview.

We met in a bustling cafe in Burlington MA where I had the enjoyment of sharing the company of a quick witted, funny, and one of the most genuinely kind hearted people I have ever met. While we began the conversation as strangers, I quickly felt at ease and by the end I wished this author was my friend. I did this interview before having ever read the book (“Emma’s Fury: The Last Winter”), and she did a great job not spoiling anything. It is with gratitude for this experience that I share the following interview.

Author Interview Questions

1.         What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence Emma’s Fury?

“I have always enjoyed reading and the art of story-telling.  There is something truly pleasurable when you can become completely immersed in a story and a new world.  I’m also a huge fan of history and mythology.  There are a lot of elements of world mythology in Emma’s Fury.  There seems to be a commonality that connects people from all over the world through mythology and shared human experiences.  Although many of the characters are from different time periods and cultures they share a common bond through their humanity.”

2.         Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

“Not necessarily inside jokes but I pulled aspects of their personalities for some of the characters.  David is a mixture of two people in my life while Mei Li and Tatiana represent two sides of other person’s personality.”

3.         What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

“I had no idea what to expect when I started the process.  I think the largest hurdles have been the logistics of self publishing such as meeting requirements for uploading the book in each format, purchasing formats and copyright laws.  Marketing has been a full-time commitment for the last year.  I’m a fairly shy person so I’ve had to move outside of my comfort zone for my dream.”

We went on to discuss more intricate details of the writing process and how this plays out.

“I need to be able to see the whole story from start to finish”

“I get an inspirational seam – I string this together in a cohesive flow of events and create an outline.” This outline that Rainier mentions, is critical. Outlines provide the ability to review segments of the story and look at cause and effect as well as how each part reaches a resolution. It also helps her find plot holes.

But she also shared that this is process has to be flexible. Scenes change and this will result in changes throughout the rest of the book and, as an example, the second and third books in her series were originally one book.

Another part of the process is thinking about the experience of the book from the perspective of the reader. This includes the structure of chapters and the amount of detail that is left after editing.

Chapters are handled by finding and creating natural breaks and pacing to keep a reader interested, but not overwhelmed. When I asked Rainier for recommendations on length, she mentioned that 3,000 – 3,500 words is a good chapter length.

In regards to the details left in a story, it’s reasonable to leave a lot up to a reader’s imagination. Reader’s need the experience of creating their own version of characters and setting and the details left, such as a chair, need to be in the room because someone is going to use them.

4.         How long did it take you to write Emma’s Fury from the first idea to publication date?

“I guess I had the basic idea rattling around for ten years or so, but I couldn’t figure out how to connect all the pieces. One day I was researching Greek mythology and came across the Erinyes and was intrigued.  Once I had an answer to those questions it took about a year and a half, almost two years to actually write the book.”

5.         What advice do you have to new authors?

“As cliché as it may sound– write the story that you want to read.  If you love the book then chances are someone else will too.  Also try not to be scared off by the prospect of negative reviews.  At the end of the day some people will love your work, some will be neutral to it and others will hate it.  Even bestsellers will have one star reviews but just remember that if one person enjoys your story then you have succeeded.”

I asked for Rainier to elaborate a bit more on her advice and we did break it down a bit more.

I sensed a bit of a disgruntled sigh as we talked about how she sees new authors wanting to be on Best Sellers lists. “A lot depends on an author’s ultimate goal, so new authors should ask themselves, ‘what do you consider success?’

Do you want people to read the book and enjoy it in the same way that you have read other peoples’ books and enjoyed them?

And in the end that is the goal – to create a book that someone would want to read because at the end of the day the reader’s money is as valuable as your money and you want to give them a product that you’re proud of.

But how does one do that? Rainier has some advice:

Be honest with yourself about the story you want to tell. This means being okay with a story that you want to write, that your parents may not want to read. Write your story regardless of what you think other people are going to say, and don’t rush the process because a reader can always tell.

Part of not rushing is incrementally growing your characters and bringing them along in the story. Remembering that the characters and the reader are on the same ride. That said, it’s important to slowly pull readers in and get them comfortable, then you traumatize them. We discussed examples of where this didn’t happen and it meant we discontinued reading the books entirely. The example I brought up was Terry Goodkind’s “Stone of Tears” (second book in the Sword of Truth series) in which he kills the character Sister Margaret in such a way that I ended up putting down the series and never finishing reading it. I’ve heard it’s good, but that particular interaction where a new character was killed off at the beginning of a book in a brutal way made me never finish reading the entire series.

But what about publishing?

Decide early on if you plan to self publish because it’s a lot of work. Learn about the process and start thinking about the image and marketing of the book as soon as possible, then start building the book’s image while you’re still writing it. It helps to do everything a little bit at a time. This includes learning about the process of picking ISBN numbers.

Linda Rainier went through Ingram Spark after querying over 45 agents. Most often she received no response instead of a rejection letter. She purchased her ISBN through Bowker, which allowed for her to have the ISBN direct through Library of Congress (US). Part of why Rainier chose Ingram Spark over Amazon was due to Amazon’s partial ownership of the ISBN.

6.         Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

“Twitter has been surprisingly supportive.  When I created my author account I didn’t have a lot of experience with the platform and honestly didn’t know if anything would come of it.  But really the Twitter platform is a great group of authors helping and encouraging others.”

7.         Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

“There was a need to fight to maintain my vision for the story against pressure/suggestions from others around me. Also some social media platforms can be toxic under the guise of fostering grown within an author and they just don’t.”

8.         What was your biggest inspiration?

“There are so many but if I had to narrow it down it would be Shakespearian tragedies and Japanese Anime.  I love how they tap into some visceral human emotions.  Both are exceptional mediums for story-telling.”

9.         If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write Emma’s Fury, what would it say?

“Don’t be afraid.  This process will only make you stronger and believe in the story you have to tell.  Also start researching ISBNs as soon as you can.”

10.      Why do you write? (Optional)

“Writing is a way for me to have a shared experience with others.  It is also a way to process my own emotions and to have my own voice.”

We ended up spending a lot of time discussing this particular question and there were some gems that almost sent tea out my nose and there were other moments so pure I wish I could encapsulate it as motivation.

“I don’t write to upset anyone or to be the next J.K. Rowling,” Rainier shared. “It is a way for me to connect with other people.”

“Reading has given me so much joy. It is a way for me to give that experience to other people and to have that connection with imagination.”

She also discussed the therapeutic benefits, such as when there are times in life that need an outlet. “It gives me a way to emotionally get out all of these emotions that I have.”

“Right when I was about to finish the book my mom died. Working on scenes later, I had to tap into these emotions of missing and longing to see my mom. It’s not saying that I had to experience everything that a character experiences, but it gives me a chance to experience and adjust to the trauma. It allows for processing. If it is at all therapeutic to me it is therapeutic to someone else. You allow yourself to process and heal by writing. It depends on the person. Some people just like to tell stories. When I was younger I used to just love telling story.”

If you haven’t already checked out my review of Emma’s Fury: The Last Winter, please take a moment to do so. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet this amazing author and cannot wait to read the next installment of her series.

November 2019: “The Moon Hunters” by Anya Pavelle

Plot Summary (Caution Spoilers!):
The year is 2065, and a scientific research vessel is currently tracking dolphins affected by an earthquake in the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Deanne Ambagu and her nurse, Tomas, are examining the belongings of two assumed refugees they found drifting in a rather unusual boat. While both are unconscious, the doctor tries to find clues to the identities and origins of the two individuals. She finds a journal, a religious text, and references to a bizarre calendar so different from her own. In the journal, she finds mention of a pandemic 50 years prior that killed off a large portion of the world’s population. While the world has recovered and moved on, the doctor has a horrific realization: these two people are refugees from somewhere cut off since the pandemic.

Yet, when the strange woman with red hair and tan skin awakens, she is alarmed, surrounded by foreign materials like plastic and cotton. She panics at first. Once calmed, she slowly begins to tell her story of an island with three cities founded by three siblings named Samsara, Chanson, and Rekin Ani. Each sibling founds a city on the island and populates it with the friends they can save from their old home in California. Assuming that the world as they knew it has ended, they set up trade agreements and try to create a way for the world to continue in quarantine.

So why did the two flee? How did they end up where they are? Why are they together? The doctor has so many questions for the young woman as she awakes and reveals her name, Leilani.

Leilani was raised in the city founded by Rekin Ani, her great grandfather. The child of aristocratic parents that died of drowning, her only actual female role model is her space-case grandmother, a former queen. Her twin brother, Irin, is the head of the house by religious and cultural standards. Additionally, since the passing of their parents, he holds a place as a prince of their village and works as a leader, having to fulfill the duties expected of him.

This society has expectations of women as well that are rigid and unforgiving. Her best friend is a servant within her household yearning to change in status and live a more comfortable life – something Leilani promises she will help make possible at any cost, a promise that will lead to her downfall. But she is lucky! Her family and status have blessed her with a job, comfort, and finery that brings her some semblance of joy. Enough so that she is complacent with her situation.

There would be no story if things didn’t change, and so her brother, with her best interests at heart, makes it so. She is surprised to find that she is to change jobs and instead become Elegance, a member of the Queen’s Virtues. The Virtues represent the traits of the Ethereal Queen, the subservient female counterpart of Lehom, the volcano god. While this is beneficial for rank and status, there is something suspicious – Elegance is a position once held by the queen’s sister, and these are positions held for life. Why would the queen dismiss her sister?

So when the former Elegance suddenly shows up dead, and the King begins proposing changes to the government’s structure, a metaphorical and literal earthquake begins to shake things up on this island, putting the lives and safety of everyone in danger. In this incredible work of fiction, Leilani battles cognitive dissonance, finding herself beyond her religion, and discovering a world outside her own.

My Overall Response:
“The Moon Hunters” by Anya Pavelle is the best book I’ve read this year. Pavelle brings together stories within stories, showing the reader contrasting views, multi-dimensional characters, betrayal, forgiveness, and the representation of a grandmother’s love to a degree I have never before seen represented so poignantly in literature.

This book required writing at least 3 or 4 different books that merged into one cohesive story. Readers, this takes time and effort. This is not an easy task. It means that an author plays around in the world to ensure that the reader can too. Between writing the religious texts referenced, the journal entries of various people, the histories, and developing the context for all of this information to be discovered and put together, I’m sure there’s enough information for more books to be written about this island and the other characters mentioned. I would love to read more books about the people of Ani Island, particularly Samsara and Chanson. I have a fairly keen sense that the author has all of that information ready without asking based on the level of detail provided to readers.

One of the beautiful things about how Pavelle structured the story is by contrasting the different cities founded by different siblings. There’s Samsara, the liberal, compassionate, free-thinker whose journal calls her brother, Rekin, out on his crap. There’s Chanson, the mediator, and “middle ground” where the other two siblings’ cities must meet. Then there’s Rekin, the former Hollywood party-kid turned cult leader that has forced men and women into his ideal images of both.

The multi-dimensional characters make the story realistic, and the example I will choose to focus on is Leilani’s brother, Irin. Irin initially comes across as a complete asshole to an American reader. Except, as the story continues, this view changes. We realize behind the scenes that the reader doesn’t get to see Irin at his actual depth and instead sees him falter out of artifice for the benefit of his family and position of power. By the end of the book, I was proud of Irin’s growth and change to genuine expression.

One of the themes of the book is betrayal and forgiveness. What constitutes betrayal, and what deserves forgiveness? When does one let things go? When has someone been punished enough? As a reader, we see this repetition with differing results specific to the antagonist’s circumstances and Leilani’s internal state. This thematic element blesses a reader with reactional emotions such that we escape no consequences.

This is the second book I have reviewed that has made me pause for tears (the first being Then Came Darkness). The particular scene that made me cry was when Leilani’s grandmother reveals to her that she wants Leilani to know she can leave her life and have something else if she wants. She wants Leilani to see that she can have happiness and gives her the gives to secure that happiness. My grandmother, named Lillian, did this for me.

I genuinely think this is the best book I’ve read this year and maybe one of the best humanist works I’ve ever read. I cannot recommend this book enough and hope that everyone reading this review purchases a copy.

LGBTQA Friendly?
100%. One of the contrasting foundational elements of this book between societies shows heteronormativity versus complete acceptance of a spectrum of relationships. I would absolutely recommend any LGBTQA reading list.

Grammar:
While I think the writing is otherwise impeccable, the author mentioned she found two errors in the printed version. As a result, I went back into my notes and decided to be nit-picky on the two mistakes I did find for this reason. I did see notes for:

  • page 231, where the word “had” is missing.
  • page 279, where the word “my” should be the word “I.”

To be clear – this book meets the 1: 10,000-word error editorial standard and the errors are not memorable.

Twilight Zone Moment:
The unanswered questions I have that I wish had been addressed more in the book are what are the stereotyped traits of the founding families, and how did the class structure of the Village of Lehom arise? Perhaps this is something that could better be addressed in prequels if Pavelle so chooses to indulge an eager fan.

Want to Know More About the Author?
To read more about Anya Pavelle, read more of their work, or contact them, you can visit their website or visit their Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. You can purchase the book here.

Chandra Press, LLC, published this book. For more information, you can visit their website at www.chandrapress.com.